Preservation Framing

of a

1797 Playbill


School for Scandal, The Preservation Framing of a 1797 Playbill

The Project

This original playbill for the May 29, 1797 performance of “School of Scandal” at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London is the prized heirloom of a client who reached out to Artifact about preservation and framing for her unique piece.  As fans of history and of the theater, the family cherished this playbill for over two generations.  The playbill arrived at our studio in need of care and attention in order to address its’ condition related to inadequate housing.  As well as to achieve the goal of updating the visual appeal of the display which would carry on the interesting story surrounding the object itself. 

Before Image of the antique 1700s playbill, before treatment

The History 

The theater was a prominent part of the culture and social life of Britain in the late 18th century. Playbills outlined the evening’s entertainment, which usually started with a two-to-three-hour main performance followed by a shorter, often comedic piece. Playbills, just like our example, were used to advertise the day’s theater schedule in some of the leading playhouses of the time such as Drury Lane and Covent Garden.  Both playhouses were awarded the title, “Theatre Royal,” after being bestowed a royal license. They staged a variety of comedies, tragedies, and musical performances including “School for Scandal” which opened to great acclaim on May 8, 1777.

This playbill headed “Mrs. Jordan’s Night,” refers to the three distinct performances by Dorothea Jordan (November 21, 1761 – July 5, 1816) taking place that evening.  She would play Mrs. Teazle in “School for Scandal” (for that Night only), followed by an introduction of “In the dead of the Night,” written by R. Cumberland, Esq., and finally performing as Nell in the musical entertainment, “Devil to Pay.”  It was a common practice of the time to bill female actors as “Miss” or “Mrs.” omitting their first names.  Dorothea, or Dora, Jordan rose from poverty in Ireland to become one of the greatest and most beloved comedy actresses of her time.  The star of the Theatre Royal caught the attention of Prince William, Duke of Clarence (who would become King William IV), with whom she would spend 20 years together.  Dora gave birth to 10 children with the Duke of Clarence all while maintaining an extraordinary pace of performances throughout the theater circuit.  In the end, however, Dora was betrayed by the Royal Family.


The Treatment


In its present condition, we were concerned that the piece had slipped from its mount, causing tension to the sheet and leaving it vulnerable to compression from the glass in the frame.  The original mountboard was degraded from contact with an acidic wood panel backboard.  Additionally, the frame itself was unstable, with weak and open joins, and the original black finish was failing and flaking from the wood support

In order to update this 18th-century piece for a 21st-century display, our specialist worked with the client to select a simple flat profile black finish frame coupled with museum-quality materials in order to preserve the piece for future enjoyment.  The sheet was carefully freed from the frame and lightly surface cleaned.  It was float mounted on a sympathetically toned, ph-neutral museum ragboard with a matching 8ply ragboard mat to provide a buffer between the sheet and the glass and provide visual dimension.  The piece was archivally secured to the mat with a reversible technique using long-fibered, Asian tissue hinges with methylcellulose adhesive.  The client selected to install 99% UV filtering, anti-reflective Museum Glass, to not only protect the piece from harmful ultraviolet light but to minimize reflection and optimize the visibility of the sheet.  The piece was backed with moisture-resistant polypropylene and the package was encapsulated to protect the piece from environmental fluctuation.  This frame design is a modern version of the original, which honors both the old as well as the new.


After preservation framing at Artifact. Photo by April Hann Lanford, Chicago IL Artmill Group, Fine Art and museum quality framing services

Historical Preservation

What was once a small tangible memento from an evening of theater entertainment is now a 225-year-old historic artifact.  The new archival frame design has preserved this piece of history while allowing it to be on view.  At Artifact, every project is about retaining moments of the past to carry them into the future. Do you have a piece that you would like to preserve?  

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